You Can't Maintain Metaphysical Fitness by Wrestling with Shadows
Bahhhh... It's on the tip of my tongue... No, not sheep. What do you call it, Jeeves? That's it: Baadar-Meinhof phenomenon. It's when something is brought to our attention, and then we start seeing it everywhere.
It's happening now with left and right brain differences. Ever since I picked up The Master and His Emissary, they're turning up everywhere I look, for example, in this book by Etienne Gilson called Methodical Realism.
I should point out that nowhere does Gilson, of course, make reference to split brain research. Nevertheless, his description of the proper working of the mind is uncannily reminiscent of what we've been saying about experience starting in the right brain and then being processed in a more abstract way by the left.
If we start with the left, and confuse the abstraction with the reality, we're headed for the metaphysical ditch. And yet, this is the fundamental Error of the West over these past few centuries, essentially since the innovations of Descartes took hold in the collective western psyche. In fact, instead of "western psyche," we might as well say "left psyche," as I will proceed to demonstrate.
Let's fast forward to the last chapter of the book, A Handbook for Beginning Realists. It consists of 30 insultaining postulates and principles one would do well to read and internalize before setting foot onto university soil, because most everything you are exposed to in the university will violate these principles, and therefore, the Real. Certainly no one there will ever chide you for being a simple-minded relativist or naive liberal. Or sick idealist.
Here is Gilson's #1: "The first step on the realist path is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that, however hard one tries to think differently, one will never manage to; the third is to realize that those who claim they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If one then asks oneself why, one's conversion is all but complete."
What this means is that people who are not realists are just posing, like the proud and brave anti-gun activists seen in James O'Keefe's hilarious new video.
Or think of Al Gore, who is happy to impose his abstract fantasy on the entire world, but not to the point that it troubles his conscience to take 100 million real dollars from Big Oil. He may be crazy, but he's not stupid. Or is it the other way around? Same with Obama. He's happy to grab your weapons, but he's not unrealistic enough to declare the White House a gun-free zone.
More generally, almost all of the liberals I personally know live conspicuously conservative lives. So why don't they preach with the left brain what they practice with the right? It's a weird form of inverted hypocrisy.
Before proceeding any further we probably need to nail down some definitions, since realism is a philosophical term of art. Everyone thinks he is a "realist," but we are obviously not using the word in the colloquial sense.
Quite simply, the realist starts with the external world as the source of knowledge. Ever since Descartes, and especially Kant, this seemingly common sense view has been dismissed by the tenured as hopelessly naive and pre-critical. Which, of course, it can be. But to imagine that Thomas Aquinas was a naive and uncritical thinker is itself a breathtaking example of uncritical naiveté.
There are really only two places to begin our lifetome adventure of consciousness: with being, or with thought. Quite simply, the scholastics begin with being, while any form of critical philosophy begins with thought, as in I think, therefore I am.
Again, as alluded to above, people inevitably vote with their feet, and it is strictly impossible to maintain a consistent idealism: "The idealist method is the suicide of philosophy," writes Gilson, "because it engages philosophy in an inextricable series of internal contradictions that ultimately draw it into skepticism," or "self-liberation through suicide" (what we call cluelesside).
Here is Gilson's second point:
"We must begin by distrusting the term 'thought'; for the greatest difference between the realist and the idealist is that the idealist thinks, whereas the realist knows.
"For the realist, thinking simply means organizing knowledge or reflecting on its content. It would never occur to him to make thought the starting point of his reflections, because for him a thought is only possible where there is first of all knowledge. The idealist, however, because he goes from thought to things, cannot know whether what he starts from corresponds to an object or not."
The inevitable result is that there is simply no way to reunite thought and reality. "You can't get there from here," as the joke goes. In terms of left and right brain differences, it seems that knowledge must begin in the right brain, because it is precisely where world and psyche meet in a thoroughly holistic and entangled sort of way. Gilson says as much:
"The knowledge the realist is talking about is the lived and experienced unity of an intellect with an apprehended reality." The left brain can then help us reflect on that reality, but cannot be its source.
But when we sunder thought and reality, the latter is "ceaselessly fragmented into imaginary entities which are so much false coin.... everything splits into a couple of antinomical terms which the ingenuity of philosophers will never succeed in reuniting" (e.g., body and soul, life and matter, mind and animal, subject and object, individual and collective, freedom and determinism, etc.). It is "a field of battle where irreconcilable shadows are locked in a struggle without end..."
In other words, the left brain cannot generate its own content, with certain exceptions, most especially, logical or mathematical entailment. Interestingly, Gilson points out that Descartes used mathematics as the touchstone of his system, which is precisely what helped displace Aristotelean science, which had been erroneously rooted in biology. (Probably not saying that as clearly as I should, but you get the point.)
Once it was seen that scientific advance was only possible by adopting a quantitative view of the world, the realist baby was thrown out with the Aristotelean bathwater, and here we are: the patently un-real worlds of scientism, Darwinism, neo-Marxism, and various other abstract left brain pathologies. Each of these pseudo-philosophies generates absurdities and paradoxes which it is powerless to resolve within itself.
Note that there is nothing fundamentally illogical about such ideologies. As Gilson explains, "Idealism derives its whole strength from the consistency with which it develops the consequences of its initial error. One is, therefore, mistaken in trying to refute it by accusing it of not being logical enough." Paul Krugman is of course crazy, but not illogical.
Indeed, ideologues "live by logic," because in them "the order of connections of ideas replaces the order and connection between things." Thus, Marxism, for example, makes perfect sense, so long as it follows on the initial error of superimposing the Hegelian dialectic on reality. Likewise, Darwinism is a total explanation so long as we ignore our lived human experience.
To be continued...